Kenny Rice: Even After 20 Years, UFC Decisions Never Change

Haven’t we been here before? A controversial decision ruffling and baffling fans. Why though, is there still surprise?

In my ebook Not Hit Yet, there was a chapter dedicated to the blurred lines of a fight going to the judges for a verdict. It was titled “When Combative Sports Become Figure Skating” as it becomes a subjective, nothing clear cut, nothing that can ever be guaranteed. Three people may have three very different views from the one you are certain of. The one, the fighter in one corner knows is the right one to be read by the ring announcer. This is the way it is in both MMA and in boxing.

On the 20th anniversary of the UFC, it once again shows that inherent argument for fight fans when neither fighter could stop it on its own. They’ve left it out there for debate; among judges, their corners, and of course their fans. It won’t change, it can’t change. Boxing hasn’t figured out an absolute method in over a century, so what makes anyone think the relative infancy of MMA can get it right every time?

This isn’t a revelation. I can’t count the number of times fighters have appeared on “Inside MMA” and flatly stated the only way to win a fight is to clearly knockout or submit their opponent, so they won’t have to hold their breath and see what three people have to say about the outcome. Interestingly even future Hall of Famer Georges St. Pierre told me, while still in rehab after knee surgery, that he wanted to finish fights in the future and not rely on the judging.

There he stood in the octagon Saturday night, GSP as bloody and battered as any fighter can look to have his hand raised in victory. His seventh straight UFC welterweight title defense ending in decision, adding to his UFC record of 12 won by way of decision. Oh but this was a split decision? He still won it and in doing so opened a large can of controversy that Johny Hendricks instead was the real winner. Hendricks is one of the fighters that has concurred on “Inside MMA” that a fighter must win it in the cage to be sure. He is probably thinking that more and more as the hours have past.

To be sure there are mixed emotions in watching a replay, having the luxury of dwelling on it, not having the made the immediate call the judges did. The old school thought is a champion should have his belt definitively taken from him, he’s earned that respect from the judges and the fans. The reality is different, sometimes leaning too much on nostalgia and less on what it unfolding before our eyes. If he isn’t controlling the bout, if he isn’t landing power punches as often, shouldn’t that be a strong consideration? Is he either not having his usual night or he is simply getting beat? But again this is conjecture and again, it leads to the humongous fly in the combative sports ointment–decisions, decisions.

One doesn’t have to delve deep into the UFC record book to find precedence for a champ losing his crown by decision, rather than just getting beat by his adversary. Benson Henderson became the lightweight champ at UFC 144 with a decision victory over champion Frankie Edgar, and then defended the belt three straight times (two of them split) via decision. When he lost the crown at 164, there was no controversy. Anthony Pettis won by arm bar, right in front of judges, referee, and fans. He made his case open and shut by just doing it in the cage.

Unless the fight is straight out won there will always, or many times at least, be those lingering questions about a decision, especially in a main event. You want different judges? You want the UFC to scream at the Nevada Athletic Commission or any state commission where there is a hung jury verdict that hangs out fans and fighters? It won’t happen. It can’t happen. Every time your favorite fighter loses then a judge or judges have to be replaced? Impossible.

The promoters don’t want that. Boxing has thrived on those rematches, playing off the already built-in drama of the previous fight, it’s too easy to overlook, right there in front of them. The audience is demanding a pugilistic recount. The same with the UFC, the GSP-Hendricks rematch was instantly demanded, fanning the flames already burning in those who either thought, Hendricks had decidedly been in charge of the match or GSP had once again showed the cunning in not being stopped. Not the first time the UFC, like any other organization, seized the heat of the moment to turn up the heat on you, the fan, to buy the next PPV.

Decisions are tough in life as it is, and tougher on those who can’t finish what they start. It won’t change. Fighters and fans take note, it isn’t the judges fault all the time.


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Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Friday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world, available at Amazon now

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